Design Notes: 4th Generation Corvette
The generation that almost didn’t see light
The Chevrolet Corvette entered the 1970s sporting its third generation design (also known as C3). The C3 body style amazingly carried the Corvette through that entire decade, and a couple of years into the next.
Even so, Chevrolet was diligently working on a replacement Corvette, the C4, from the mid-1970s. That is, after its near brush with death.
Despite Corvette’s sales rising steadily year-over-year from 1970 to the time when C4 was being contemplated, around the middle of the decade, the ever-present financial experts were sounding the alarms of capacity inefficiencies.
Framed by a seeming inability to recognize the value in Corvette’s iconic image for the brand, let alone increasing popularity, the so-called experts (otherwise referred to as “bean counters”) were hounding Chevrolet’s general manager, Mr. Bob Lund, to make a change. The most drastic of those proposed changes called for an end to the Corvette model.
It’s reported that, at a meeting, Mr. Lund had just finished stating how ending low-volume Corvette production would allow for greater high-volume Monte Carlo production when Chevrolet’s Director of Public Relations, Jim Williams, stood and said to Mr. Lund, “I don’t know about you, Bob, but I don’t want to be known as the PR chief who worked at Chevy when they dumped the Corvette.”
What transpired next in that meeting is not as widely known but the next generation Corvette moved forward, and at an enthusiastic pace.
By 1976, General Motors’ had assigned two groups to work on the ground-up redesign: the Corvette engineering group and the “Chevy 3” studio for design. Plagued by what seems a requisite question for any Corvette redesign, the issue of engine placement resulted in two paths of study.
One was a traditional, front-engined proposal to be smaller and lighter than the existing Corvette.
The other proposal was for a mid-engined configuration. And it wasn’t the first time Corvette engineers contemplated transplanting the engine. It had been briefly considered for the 1968 redesign but quickly abandoned due primarily to cost constraints. However, Chevy continued to play with the idea in its concepts, notably and pertinent to the C4, the Aerovette from 1973. (The Aerovette will be reviewed in an upcoming post, so it will not be covered in detail here.)
These are two mid-engine Corvette renditions. The light one is from September of 1975. The darker, partially blocked illustration, is from sometime in late 1976.
Despite fresh mid-engine design proposals, designers agreed most didn’t look like Corvettes and that they couldn’t out-design what had already been done a few years earlier.